Sunday's NFL Week 17 game has a ton riding on it. It's an AFC East division game. It's the Miami Dolphins against archrival New York Jets. And, it's a chance to prevent the Jets from making three straight playoff appearances. But, with one statement, all that became secondary - even if the man making the statement doesn't want it to be about him, but about the team.
"After 15 years of doing this and 13 here in Miami this will be my last game as a Miami Dolphin and as a professional football player," Miami Dolphins linebacker Jason Taylor stated earlier today. "So I look forward to enjoying this week and soaking it all in for the next few days, but we have a game left to play, so while there will be a time for thank yous and good-byes and all that, this is not the time."
But, this is the time for good-byes Jason. Because, you see, you have transcended a footbal player retiring. You epitomize an era for the Miami Dolphins. You are a walking legend. And, this Sunday, when you walk into that tunnel after the final gun, we all know, this is our final chance to see you.
We, as fans all dealt with the Dolphins trading you to the Washington Redskins. We all celebrated your return. We all stomached you going to New York with the Jets when the Dolphins didn't want you. We all celebrated your return. But, this time, we all know, we won't get to see you on the field anymore. There's no watching another team's game, hoping you will finally get to the Super Bowl. Finally have the playoff success the Dolphins couldn't get you - and the success you so rightly deserved. This time, when you walk away from Sun Life Stadium (or Land Shark Stadium, or Dolphins Stadium, or Dolphins Stadium, or Pro Player Park, or Pro Player Stadium - all of which it has been named during your career, having missed Joe Robbie Stadium by one year), you, and your number, should walk off the field for the last time.
And, that's something it's going to take all of us a little while to accept. So, this is the time to start the good byes.
Jason Taylor was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the third round of the 1997 draft. A defensive end coming out of Akron, and, although he was a two-time All-MAC first team selection, not a whole lot of fanfare followed him to Miami. If we had only known then, what we know now, what a special moment that draft would have been. Instead, we were talking about our first round draft choice, wide receiver Yatil Green.
Instead, 15 seasons later, Taylor is clearly at the head of that draft class. Notables from the 1997 draft include Orlando Pace (#1 overall to St. Louis Rams), Darrell Russell (#2 overall to Oakland Raiders), Warrick Dunn (#12 overall to Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Tony Gonzalez (#13 overall to Kansas City Chiefs), Sam Madison (#44 overall to Miami Dolphins), Marcellus Wiley (#52 overall to Buffalo Bills), and Mike Vrabel (#91 overall to Pittsburgh Steelers). But, other than Tony Gonzalez, there's no one that can claim to have had the career Taylor had.
In his rookie year, Taylor started 11 games at right defensive end, appearing in two more, and tallied 5 sacks, along with 30 tackles. He also forced 2 fumbles, recovering both.
The following season, Taylor started 15 of the 16 games he appeared. He found the quarterback 9 times that year. along with 34 tackles, and forced 3 fumbles.
In 1999, Taylor started all 15 games in which he played. He only got 2.5 sacks, the lowest season total of his career, but he did tally his first career interception, along with 2 fumbles recovered and the first fumble recovery for a touchdown of his career. It wouldn't be the last.
The 2000 season saw Taylor bounce back. He brought down the quarterback 14.5 times, claiming one interception, forcing two fumbles, recovering four fumbles, and adding another fumble recovery touchdown. Taylor was named to his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro team during the season.
The next year, Taylor added another 8.5 sacks to his career total. He had an interceptions, along with 8 passes defensed. He again forced four fumbles, recovering four, and scoring on one of those recoveries.
The 2002 season saw Taylor lead the league in sacks, with 18.5, along with 8 passes defensed. He also tallied 46 tackles, seven forced fumbles, and two fumbles recovered. He was again named to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro first team.
In 2003, Taylor again reached double digit sacks, the third time in his career he had made that milestone, this time with 13. He also had 3 passes defensed and two fumbles recovered, with one returned for a touchdown, the fourth time in his career he found the endzone on a fumble recovery. Taylor also tallied his first career safety in 2003.
In 2004, Taylor was named to the Pro Bowl, the first of four straight trips to Hawaii. He had 9.5 sacks in 2004, along with one interceptions, two forced fumbles, three recoveries, 11 passes defensed and 41 tackles.
The following season, Taylor returned to the double digits sacks club, with 12 sacks, along with four forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, with 1 fumbles recovery touchdown. He also picked up his second career safety, and had his career high of 52 tackles, as well as 10 passes defensed.
In 2006, Taylor brought down opposing quarterbacks 13.5 times, and grabbed 2 interceptions along with11 passes defensed.. Both of those interceptions he returned for touchdowns, leading the league in interceptions touchdowns. He also forced a career single-season high of 9 forced fumbles/ He recovered two fumbles over the season, along with 41 tackles. Along with the Pro Bowl selection, Taylor was named to the All-Pro team for the third time in his career.
The next season, Taylor tallied 11 sacks, with three forced fumbles and three recoveries. He also intercepted a pass for a touchdown and had 46 tackles.
The Dolphins traded Taylor in 2008 to the Washington Redskins, who moved him from the right side of the defensive line to the left. He was also placed in a backup role (although he did start 8 games), the first time in his career he was not a starter. In limited duty, appearing in 13 games, Taylor gained 3.5 sacks and 1 pass defensed. He had a total of 21 tackles. The 2008 season marked the first time since 2003 Taylor did not make the Pro Bowl.
After being released by the Redskins prior to the 2009 season, Taylor returned to the Dolphins, where he started 15 of the 16 appearances he made at left outside linebacker. Taylor recorded 7 sacks over the season, along with an interception and 5 passes defensed. Taylor forced 3 fumbles, recovering one for a touchdown - setting the NFL record for fumble recovery touchdowns in a career at 6. He also recorded 33 tackles.
After his one year contract ended with the Dolphins, the team made no move to resign Taylor. He eventually signed with the New York Jets, appearing in all 16 games for the team, and starting 5 games. Playing right outside linebacker, Taylor recorded 5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and 25 tackles.
Taylor rejoined the Dolphins for his third stint with the team, getting 1 start over the first 15 games with the team. With the team, and ultimately Taylor's, last game still to play, Taylor has 7 sacks, one forced fumble, and 12 tackles.
Taylor's recognitions include his 6 Pro Bowls, 3 First Team All-Pro, 2 Second Team All-Pro, NFL Alumni Pass Rusher of the Year in 2000, AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 and 2006, NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman Player of the Year in 2005 and 2006, NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2006, Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2007, and he was named a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
Taylor has been named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week seven times, and Defensive Player of the Month three times. He was also named the team's Newcomer of the Year in 1997, the "Dan Marino" Team MVP in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006, and the Don Shula Team Leader in 2002 and 2006.
He currently has 139.5 career sacks (131.0 with Miami), ranking him 6th all time, trailing Michael Strahan by 2 sacks. He has started 198 games (185 in Miami), appearing in 232 (203 - second most in team history behind Dan Marino's 242). He has 8 career interceptions, all with the Dolphins, along with all six of his fumble recovery touchdowns coming in a Miami uniform. He has 247 career tackles (228 in Miami).
Maybe more important than anything else, however, is Taylor's leadership. Taylor has been a captain with the Dolphins for the majority of his career, including this year when he unoficially replaced Chad Henne when the quarterback was placed on injured reserve. Taylor is a vocal leader, and constantly works to better himself and the team.
As a sidenote to his NFL career, Taylor was the runner up in the sixth season of Dancing with the Stars, during the offseason between the 2007 and 2008 years. His participation on the show, and the missed mini-camps the show's schedule caused, were a big part of why he and Bill Parcells could not co-exist in Miami, leading to the trade to the Redskins.
Taylor is also married to another Dolphins' legend, Zach Thomas' sister. The two were the center of the Miami defense throughout the late 1990's and 2000's.
"It was a true honor to play alongside of Jason for as many years as I did," Thomas said about Taylor's retirement. "He was the ultimate teammate whose passion and love for the game was unmatched. As talented as he is, it was so much more than that. It shows in his stats, but it wasn't just about the sacks. He was always around the ball making big, impact plays. Touchdowns, interceptions, forced fumbles. To accomplish those things at that position is simply amazing. And when it came to competing, that was just another level. It didn't matter what he did! It could a pick-up basketball game where there was no money on the line, no records being kept, no TV, no people to watch - but JT wanted to win. He needed to win! He was always competing, on the practice field, wherever he was. But in between those lines, on that field on Sundays, Jason just has a different mindset. And you always knew it mattered to him. Nobody likes to lose but with some players you could see they weren't as affected after a loss. Not with Jason. You truly knew it meant something to him. He took losses harder than anyone I ever played with. Looking back, Jason was the ultimate professional, but not just on the field. He had a Hall of Fame career, but if you look at the things he accomplished in the community with his Foundation, he was not only a legend on the field, but off of it as well."
At Taylor's press conference today, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross stated:
"I want to thank Jason for all he has done for the Dolphins and the South Florida community. His contributions on the field as one of the greatest players in team history will be remembered by Dolphin fans for years to come, and his charitable works off the field that has benefited so many people will leave a timeless legacy of his community service."When I think of Jason, a few things stand out in my mind -- his dynamic role as one of the most feared defensive players in NFL history, a devoted husband and father, and one of the most generous and caring members of our community. Whether it's organizing his "Cool Gear for the School Year" shopping spree for needy children, relentlessly running down a quarterback out of the pocket, or chasing his boys around the Dolphin locker room, Jason exemplifies what it means to be a professional athlete and a role model.
"While he may be retiring as a player, he will always remain an integral part of the Dolphin family, contributing to the team and the community he has grown to love. We congratulate him for all he has done, and we are looking forward to continuing to work with him as he begins the next chapter of his life."
Taylor has maintained the Jason Taylor Foundation, aiding children in the South Florida area since 2004.
Many Miami teammates also commented about Taylor's impending retirement, including defensive lineman Jared Odrick. "He's taught me a lot just in terms of coming in here everyday and being a professional, just handling your business and handling football as a business and conducting yourself in a certain manner. When you look at JT you look at what he's done as something to strive for. To be in the league this long, to be successful in the league and to have that type of respect across the league, that's something you definitely should strive for."
"A guy like Jason you look up to him because he's been doing it for 15 years," added Kendall Langford said. "He always came to work and was a professional. He came ready to work, helped the guys out around him and if you had any questions he was always easy to talk to."
Taylor spoke about the praise coming from his former and current teammates.
"I think as a player and an athlete one of the most important things to you is the respect of your peers.You obviously want to play well, be liked, have fans and things like that, but the guys within your locker room or within your league are very important to you.
"So to hear guys say I had a positive impact on their career, whether they're just trying to be nice for the media or being truthful, it means a lot. I've been telling them the last couple of weeks, because some of the guys have known that this was coming down the tracks, that those are the things I will miss. I have tried to stay around a little longer, hang out a little more to get to know some of the younger guys in different ways and I will miss those guys, each and every one of them."
Taylor also realized how important it was, not just to him, but to the fans, that his last game come in the aqua and coral of a Dolphins uniform, rather than the green of the Jets, or any other team.
"There are a lot of coincidences I guess but it's great to end at home," Taylor continued. "It's great to have a chance to walk away and do it in front of your home crowd in a city that means a lot to you and against an opponent that you've had a tremendous history against. I want to win the game and I don't want to win the game because it's my last game. This is not about Jason Taylor. ... I'm just a small piece of this team train and I'm going to do my part Sunday to help win this thing."
As the team continues to develop, looking to the future, the Taylor is one of the last memories of a different era in Dolphins football. Hopefully, this isn't the last time we see him on the field at Sun Life Stadium. Sometime next year, his 99 should be retired and he should be placed in the Ring of Honor. And, if the franchise does it right, the ceremony should be a joint one with his brother-in-law, Zach Thomas.
But, no matter what, this Sunday is about good byes. Hopefully, with no hope for a playoff this year, the retirement of the Dolphins legend, the end of an era, will bring the fans to the stadium and give Taylor the sendoff he deserves.